After two weeks of intensive workshops, Notre Dame’s Global Dome PhD Accelerator in the Humanities program wrapped up with a roundtable discussion on “The Humanities and the Digital Future”. The panelists included; Elliott Visconsi, Chief Academic Digital Officer & Associate Professor of English, Concurrent Associate Professor of Law, U of Notre Dame, Kate Edwards, Senior Vice President of Efficacy and Research, Pearson PLC, and Simon Tanner, Deputy Head of Digital Humanities, King’s College London.
Visconsi kicked the discussion off by providing a “brief tour” into “Digital and Online Learning” in higher level education today and addressing some of the key questions that digital education as a broad category asks us to think about. Responding to Naomi S. Baron’s recent article, “How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities“, Visconsi first tackled charges made against the use of technological devices in the classroom and their effects on student learning. Against Baron’s claim that reading on electronic devices lessens students’ engagement / learning, Visconsi argued that devices can, when employed effectively, be designed and used for deep and engaged reading and urged the audience not to “confuse the device with the process”. Visconsi then went on to discuss the “Media Shift” that is occurring in higher level education today, where new technologies are emerging and taking the place of older media forms. With new technologies changing processes of creation, distribution, and reception of expression, Visconsi useful asked: what is the role of the information elites in the media ecology? In the face of the changing educational landscape, Visconsi claimed that the two things we as humanists need to hold onto in the face of the media shift are disciplinarity and the values of our expertise. In his final 5 minutes, Visconsi, spoke about online learning and the post-MOOC moment. Rather than seeing MOOCs as a replacement for professors, online teaching is, he argued a way of broadening our reach to members of the world who are interested in what we do.
Next to speak was Kate Edwards, Senior Vice President of Efficacy and Research, Pearson PLC. Edwards spoke about Pearson’s Efficacy Tool, a tool that uses a tried and tested method to help understand how products or services can achieve their intended outcomes or results, specifically in relation to improving learning outcomes. She also outlined Pearson’s commitment to improving teaching and learning world wide; for example, in 2018, Pearson have committed to publicly report our impact on learner outcomes, and set targets for improvement across their business by 2018. Of key interest, was Edwards’s discussion of learning analytics as a means of improving student learning.
Finally, the concluding speaker, Simon Tanner, Head of the Digital Humanities Department in King’s College London, spoke about digital humanities scholarship and its relationship to existing work in the humanities. Tanner begun by providing an accessible overview of the types of work that fall under the rubric of digital humanities, among them, distant reading and scholarly editing. While outlining how technology enables new scholarly approaches to humanities artifacts, Tanner emphasized that having a good research question to begin with remains key to schoalarship in this area. While it is possible that Tanner geared his talk towards the interests of this specific audience (all humanities students), reiterating a point made by Visconsi, he argued that digital technologies are merely tools to help enhance what we as humanities scholars already do.
As is frequently the way with panels like this, the questions the presentations evoked were perhaps as illuminating as the talks themselves. Questions centered around the role of the professor in the changing landscape of higher education; should the professor adapt the role of “edutainer”? Are learning analytics an effective means of calculating / improving student learning? How can a professor engage students who are not motivated to learn, either with or without digital tools? The meaning of “knowledge” was also addressed: What do we understand by “knowledge” in a digital age? What, if any, is the distinction between the skills acquired in the use of digital tools and “knowledge” as traditionally understood in humanities scholarship? The panelists’ responses were both helpful and, most refreshingly, honest. For example, frequent reference was made to working outside of the academy and how young scholars can, during the PhD processes, simultaneously prepare for careers in academia and beyond.
As an observer, I was struck by the confidence of the audience members, all of whom would be entering the job market in the coming year. This in itself I found refreshing: despite all the pessimism concerning the future of the humanities, these young scholars are looking confidently into the digital future.
Click the links below to hear the various presentations:
Simon Tanner, Digital Humanities at King’s College London.